AC3 ZoneController Photoshoot – Behind the Scenes at Switchback Brewing Company

Every now and then we manage to sneak out of the office to get behind the lens of the camera.  Our need for an image to launch the new AC3 ZoneController for Canon seemed like the perfect opportunity. We made a few phone calls and put a plan in motion to visit a local  craft brewery. Having always been told to pursue our passions, the opportunity to combine beer and photography sounded almost too good to be true.

Vermont is known for its legendary craft brewery culture, having one of the highest brewery to population ratios in the country.  Switchback Brewing Co. based in Burlington, VT was founded in 2002 when they started brewing their wildly-popular, unfiltered Switchback Ale.  You’d be hard pressed to find a bar in the greater Burlington area that doesn’t have this tasty ale on tap.  Since then, they’ve started brewing a Roasted Red, a Porter and most recently a Slow-Fermented Brown Ale.  The catch with Switchback is they only sell in kegs, no bottles.  So you either enjoy it at your favorite watering-hole or you take a keg home and enjoy it with some of your closest friends.   After getting a tour with the brewmaster and listening to his detailed explanation of what makes his beers different (he’s a former microbiologist), we discovered what makes their brews so good.  But we have to keep that a secret!

The beer is the second reason why we went to the brewery; the classic German copper kettles and lauter tun used in the brewing process was the first.  Switchback has two, 46-year-old, handcrafted copper kettles complete with a copper control panel all purchased from a brewery in Beerfelden, Germany. They were about to be sent to the scrap yard when they were discovered.  Reportedly, it cost more to ship the kettles to Vermont than they were to purchase.

We contacted the owner/brewmaster a few weeks ago and asked if we could come in and take some pictures of the kettles when they weren’t in use.  We wanted to get some shots while the kettles were empty so we could put flashes in them (safety first!).  As luck would have it, that would happen the next day.  We packed up some gear and headed off to the brewery for a few hours.

The image we wanted was pretty straightforward, highlight the kettles with lights on the inside and make sure the authentic control panel was in the picture.  Getting the shot we wanted quickly was important as the temps on the upper deck hovered around a cool 95˚ F (35˚C).  Normally they can easily hit 110˚ F (43˚C) when the kettles are in full operation!

The ambient lights were large warehouse fixtures, which made balancing them with our flashes a bit of a challenge, especially due to the reflective nature of the giant, polished copper and steel kettles.  We started off working to control the ambient lights with two medium soft boxes powered by an Elinchrom Ranger pack and controlled with a PowerST4 Receiver. Our next step was to light the inside of the kettles with a few Speedlites and FlexTT5s, which ended up being a bit of a challenge. One of the kettles was almost twice as deep as any of us were tall.  Needless to say, we were asking more of our light stands than they could offer!  One strategically placed Justin Clamp later and we were in business.

Shooting with a 5D Mark II and 17-40mm lens, we borrowed a ladder to get the perspective we wanted, which was further exaggerated by the wide angle lens.  After adding a few kicker lights around the back of the kettles we added some gels to the mix to give the image a little more punch.  After a few AC3 power tweaks, we were happy with the image and we’re off to do some taste testing.  The final image as seen below and on the homepage of was taken with a Canon 5D Mark II; f/8; 1/15 sec.; ISO 800.

Author, Dave Schmidt, VP of Sales and Marketing at PocketWizard, is also an avid photographer.  He along with Ian and Zack, our tech support guys and avid photographers themselves, spent a few hours at the brewery taking the image which is featured on the homepage of

One Response

  1. Love the fact that you can combine pocketwizardstuff with the Elinchrom flashes. Does it work with the Ranger quadra because they have the RX system built in. (no special port for a receiver)?


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